Smotherman the hero as Giants snap losing skid by downing Storm
Belfast Giants 3-1 Manchester Storm
In the space of 11 seconds in the third period, the Belfast Giants' Sunday afternoon went from potentially disastrous to a great one.
At one end, Manchester Storm winger Scott Simmonds failed to convert a penalty shot after he had been hooked back when through on Stephen Murphy in the Giants' net, and at the other, Jordan Smotherman was clinical.
The winger battled through traffic in front of the net, got his stick free in the right circle and roofed the puck past Storm netminder Matt Ginn at 6:36 of the final period for the game-winner in a 3-1 victory for Adam Keefe's side at the SSE Arena.
The win, which was secured when Smotherman added an empty netter with 14 seconds left on the clock, snaps a six-game losing streak for the Giants in all competitions and sees them improve to 3-1-2 in the league, taking three points from their double-header weekend with the Storm.
"Tonight was a lot about the performance, not from a skills perspective but from a passion standpoint. We had something to prove to ourselves and to the people watching that we're not a team that loses six in a row, and definitely not seven," said game-winner Smotherman.
Stephen Murphy, getting a rare start ahead of usual starter Shane Owen, excelled between the pipes with 20 saves, with Smotherman taking his goal tally to six for the season, while Matt Pelech netted his second of the campaign in tying things up in the second period after Zach Sullivan had put Manchester ahead.
However, despite getting back in the win column, the result doesn't mask another performance where the Giants struggled to convert, putting 42 shots on the Storm net - forcing Ginn into another exceptional 39-save display - and only scoring three.
"It was a battle for sure. I didn't think it was a whole lot different to last night, it felt very much the same. We struggled to get the puck past Ginn, we gave them a few things. We went behind and battled back again," said head coach Keefe.
"Overall it was a better game for us from start to finish. That being said, we can still get better but we have to start somewhere and we'll certainly take that win and look to build on it.
"It wasn't going to be easy to get out of this rut but we got our noses dirty and gutted one out."
The two sides had traded powerplays in a drab first period, Cody Thompson heading off for a hooking call and Pelech called for slashing - his 16th on the season already - with the best chance falling to Jean Dupuy shorthanded.
Effecting the turnover in the neutral zone, the centre skated in one-on-one with Ginn, however his shot found the netminder's shoulder and deflected up and out rather than finding the twine.
Having dominated the first period 13-4 on the shot count, there were fears that this was going to be another game where Belfast would be dominant in every facet besides on the scoreboard, and those fears only multiplied after the intermission.
Hemming the Giants back into their own zone, a strong forecheck saw the Storm turn the puck over in the corner and when it was fed back out in front for defenceman Zach Sullivan, he rocketed one past Murphy at 8:04.
With the crowd growing increasingly restless, Belfast's finishing woes weren't aided when Ben Lake finally beat Ginn with a backhanded effort, only to see it ricochet back off the post and away, that coming after the powerplay had again failed to connect when Raymond Grewal went off for a holding call.
But the sheer weight of shots finally took its toll on the Storm, and when Pelech forced the turnover from Grewal in the defensive zone, the captain was able to cut in from the left circle and beat Ginn five-hole for the leveller with 59 seconds until the second interval.
The Giants saw another powerplay chance go begging when John Negrin headed off for hooking, but that would immediately be followed by the 11-second turnaround that would swing the game in Belfast's favour.
After Simmonds couldn't get his penalty shot away, with Murphy getting a good stick check in to force the puck away, the Giants went up the other end from the face-off and Smotherman roofed what would prove to be the game-winner past Ginn.
"It was a nice feeling. Really good feeling, and I think everyone on the team and on the bench felt the same way. It was a real nice high to have because we needed that one. It was big," said goaltender Murphy.
"It's great when you get it after one big moment in our end. Real game changer there."
Manchester were in no mood to go down quietly and the Giants' special teams had to bail them out twice more before the final buzzer as Ben Lake took a cross checking call and Curtis Hamilton sat for slashing as the time wound down.
And that allowed Smotherman to go on the empty net breakaway, with Ginn pulled for the extra skater, and when he was hooked back in the process of shooting, the officials had no choice but to point to the net and ensure the result.
The penalty kill ran at 5-for-5 in another flawless performance on special teams, however the 0-for-3 powerplay will once again be something that Keefe will be eager to take a look at during the week.
"We still need to get back to the little things that make us successful. We dominated the third period pretty well and we finally got one to go," added Smotherman.
"That's a huge confidence boost to take into next weekend."
The Giants are back in action on Friday night when they welcome the Dundee Stars (2-7-0) to the SSE Arena for an Elite League clash (face-off 7pm).
Belfast Telegraph Digital